NOTE: Since this original blog post, we have updated our license to the AGPLv3.
It’s been exciting to see the early positive reaction to our NuPIC open source project (Numenta Platform for Intelligent Computing). As part of the team that helped start this project, I’m optimistic that great work will come out of it over time.
Several people have asked what we intend to do regarding patents related to open source code in NuPIC. I am posting this blog entry to let you know our intentions.
Grok (previously called Numenta) has done significant work in machine learning and cortical modeling. Consequently, we have filed and received numerous patents on our work. To date, we have 25 issued and allowed patents, and have more under review. These patents cover a wide range of intellectual property, from claims that read on the core algorithms, to claims that pertain to specific attributes of our product, Grok.
When we decided to open source NuPIC, we did extensive investigation into the range of open source licenses available. We settled on GPLv3. Under GPLv3, all contributors to a project must grant to all other contributors an explicit license to any patents expressed in their contribution.
We believe that to enable free use of our software (as in the “software freedom” sense), we must include a license to those patents that pertain to the work included, which is partly why we selected v3 of the GPL rather than earlier versions. Therefore if you have downloaded our software and accepted the GPLv3 license, we will not assert patents on this material against you.
It should be noted that Numenta/Grok holds patents that do not pertain to the algorithms released in NuPIC. We do not view these patents as covered under the GPL, and we reserve the right to use these patents in the normal course of our business.
We’ve asked ourselves whether we should continue to seek patent protection on the work that is in the open source project. After all, it costs money and it takes time that could be used for other priorities. Thinking through it, we have decided to continue to file for patents in the future, although probably at a reduced rate.
Why would we continue to file patents on work that is going to be open source? The principle reason is to protect the NuPIC community. For example, outside developers could work on similar concepts without becoming part of the open source community. They could seek patents on their own work, making it proprietary and blocking progress of open source NuPIC developers. By keeping our patent portfolio current, we retain the ability to protect the NuPIC community from these threats. In other words, by holding patents on the work, we are able to protect the whole community from others who might seek to wall off their work through patents. In addition to filing select patents going forward, we also will evaluate other measures that would enhance patent protection for the NuPIC community.
I welcome your feedback on our patent position. Please send comments to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
And I welcome you to NuPIC, our new, open source community. I know that this is the beginning of a long road, but I also know that it’s a road with great promise to change the future.